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Written by on May 14, 2009

FYI

Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead

of the news. Here are highlights from the most current edition.

   ARTS ADVANCEMENT: Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa’s move to create a task force on the performing and visual arts cleared its first hurdle at a Recreation, Culture & Tourism Committee meeting Monday, passing unanimously with little comment. She’s pushing the measure "in order to address the economic challenges that we have right now and what the arts is facing," she said. If passed as planned, the group would hold public meetings with all not-for-profit arts programs in the county to look at sustainability, fiscal viability and facilities planning. It’s the county’s "obligation" to ensure the arts survive and thrive, she said. "I believe that art is essential to our community… and for future generations we have an obligation." Committee Chair Javier Souto agreed. "There’s no doubt that Miami-Dade County is a hub of cultural activities… We should be able to help those items and to make the most out of them for this community of ours," he said. "The better organized they are, the better they function, the most they’re going to provide to tourism and other venues."

   WRITTEN WORKS: After months of absence from Miami-Dade’s Recreation, Culture & Tourism Committee agenda, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts submitted a progress report Monday. But most on the committee weren’t interested in an oral version from center leadership, or in questions. Chair Javier Souto said he’d prefer to hear updates "from the horse’s mouth" but would respect the committee’s wishes to approve the written report straightaway, as is fairly common at the committee level. He did, however, ask Assistant County Manager Alex Muñoz "are things going OK there?" Mr. Muñoz confirmed that the center is on budget for operations. "I trust the director, and I trust the managers, so let it be," Mr. Souto said. Commissioners began requiring monthly reports in 2007 after they approved a bailout for the center.

   DOWN TO FIVE: Camillus House is bidding out construction of the New Camillus House Center on Northwest Seventh Avenue. Through a pre-qualification process, five general contractors were selected to submit bids, said Sam Gil, Camillus spokesman, via e-mail. They are Miami’s Arellano Construction and Coastal Construction; Coral Gables-based Beauchamp Construction; Pompano Beach-based Current Builders, and Fort Lauderdale’s Moss & Associates. Mr. Gil said Camillus won’t accept bids from others and that interested subcontractors should contact the general contractors directly. The five main buildings total 168,720 square feet and a garage is 136,393 square feet. A building of affordable apartments is to rise on the site but isn’t part of this bid, he said. Bids are due June 12.

   BANKER SCORES TD: TD Bank has promoted Thomas te Riele to market president of the Florida region, responsible for leading growth in commercial and consumer lending, cash management, government banking and retail business. Mr. te Riele joined the bank three years ago as a senior vice president in its middle-market lending division. Previously, he was a senior vice president for SunTrust Bank’s middle-market, institutional and government banking teams. TD Bank has 28 branches throughout South Florida and plans to add 200 throughout the region in coming years. The bank opened its first Miami-Dade branch in December after parent TD Bank Financial Group of Toronto bought New Jersey-based Commerce Bancorp for $8.5 billion in March 2008.

   HURRY UP AND WAIT: The Florida Department of Transportation has pushed back the deadline for proposal submissions by potential private operators for Alligator Alley to May 18. County commissioners voted last fall to oppose state moves to lease the 78-mile highway to a private firm for at least 50 years. The delay, according to the department, will "allow proposers to finalize their negotiations with lenders… and complete their proposals. The department is to announce the analysis of all proposals at 9 a.m. May 29 in Naples.

   THE NEXT LEVEL: If Miami-Dade commissioners won’t put the half-penny transit surtax back on the ballot, maybe legislators will, Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami says. Commissioners last week blocked a move by Carlos Gimenez to give local voters a chance to repeal the half-percent sales surtax they agreed to self-impose in 2002. Mr. Gimenez maintains that, now that the commission has changed the purpose of the tax — shifting from new projects to maintenance — it should be up to voters to decide whether they want to continue levying it. Rep. Lopez-Cantera agreed. "Unless the county commission reaches some sort of an accord, I’m going to explore legislation to call for a vote of the voters again… It should be up to the voters to decide, and let them judge if they’re satisfied with the way the money has been handled." He said he’s also up to helping Mr. Gimenez with a petition drive to gain signatures to get repeal on the ballot — but only if there’s a way to ensure seniors continue riding transit free.

   COMPETING CHANGES: Meanwhile, Mr. Gimenez and Commissioner Rebeca Sosa are both proposing changes to surtax spending and the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust, the board charged with overseeing surtax spending. Each has drafted legislation to be heard at a commission meeting set for Tuesday. Mr. Gimenez’s measure would mandate surtax revenue fund only projects listed in the original item levying the surtax as well as existing contractual obligations. Any deletions, additions or changes the commission has made since would be void unless subject to a contract or unless four-fifths of the commission and two-thirds of the transportation trust members ratify the change. He’s also proposing changing the makeup of the trust, taking the bulk of the appointment power away from the commission and allowing community groups such as the League of Cities and Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce to appoint members.

   THE OTHER OPTION: Ms. Sosa’s measure calls for creating a four-year work plan "taking into consideration the commitments made to the voters," the legislation says. The plan would be comprised of projects listed in the original item levying the surtax and those added since that are subject to contracts. Her legislation would also allow the trust to award contracts up to $2 million subject to commission ratification. Now, the trust issues recommendations. The item would also require the county inspector general to submit annual reports on surtax spending, including his recommendations. An independent audit would be performed every three years.

   MUSEUM PARK CHANGES?: Miami’s city commission is deferring three items related to the city’s proposed Museum Park project at Bicentennial Park. Assistant City Manager Roger Hernstadt said documentation is not ready as the parties are "trying to reach an agreement in the wording." One seeks to amend the 99-year lease between the city and the Miami Art Museum and Museum of Science & Planetarium — entered into in December — to increase the height of the buildings to 90 feet above grade and reduce parking from 480 to 440 spaces. City commissioners set the current height limits and parking numbers when the lease was approved.

   OTHER REQUESTS: Another resolution is to enter into a development agreement between the city and the museums to provide for design, development and construction of Museum Park. The city also seeks an environmental remediation agreement with the museums for site assessments and site rehabilitation, including the city’s obligation to pay up to $2 million toward environmental remediation costs of the sites leased for development of the museums.

   BENEFITS FOR ALL: Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff are seeking to amend the city’s code to recognize domestic partnerships of city employees. The ordinance is to set forth the rights of those partnerships, providing employment benefits to city employees and their domestic partners. The resolution does not specify that the extended benefits will include same-sex couples but notes it applies to couples who have "personal, emotional or economic relationships." The city commission is to take a first vote today (5/14).

   FORECLOSURE COALITION: The Miami City Commission is to vote today (5/14) on a resolution drafted by Chairman Joe Sanchez supporting efforts to partner with cities nationally to address the foreclosure crisis. The resolution calls for assembling a multi-city litigation group comprised of chief legal officers for cities to hold lenders accountable and reduce the numbers of foreclosures and vacant homes. If approved, Mr. Sanchez is requesting an update on those efforts within 90 days.

   PROMOTING CANADA: In a preview of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s first trade mission to Canada June 14-18, during which a Quebec-Florida chamber is to be launched, Canada’s consul general here, Marcy Grossman, told chamber members last week that Canada is Florida’s top international trade partner, exporting $4.9 billion in goods to Florida in 2007 and importing $3.7 billion from us — a relationship she said has grown an average of 10.4% annually since 2003. She said Canadians own about 10% of foreign affiliate assets in Florida, that Canadians invested $2 billion in Florida residential real estate in 2007 and spent $2.8 billion here on tourism that year — double 2003 levels. In the first half of 2008 tourism rose an added 14%, she said. With a nod to our financial woes, she said Canada has "the safest banking system in the world."

   PROMOTING CANADIAN: As chamber Chairman Carlos Fernandez-Guzman introduced Ms. Grossman, he told chamber members she would soon be leaving to become Canada’s ambassador to California. "Carlos, I just wanted to thank you for the immediate promotion to the ambassador to California and I’ll take it," said Ms. Grossman, who’s actually to leave Miami in two months to become deputy consul general in Los Angeles. When she finished, Mr. Fernandez-Guzman told her, "We certainly hope that ambassadorship is in the works. Maybe I’m foretelling."

   FINDERS KEEPERS: People can bid on hundreds of misplaced items Saturday at the annual MIA Lost and Found Public Auction at Miami International Airport. In these tough economic times if you thrive on bargaining for lower prices you may get a good deal on a variety of electronics, sporting goods, jewelry, toys and much more, organizers say. Admission is $3; children under 12 are free, as is parking. All sales must be paid in cash, and a 10% buyer premium to cover the cost of the auction will be included in every purchase. Attendees can inspect items, except luggage, starting at 8:30 a.m. but bidding starts at 9:30 a.m. on the third floor of Building 845 at the airport, 5600 NW 36th St.

   WHAT’S FOR SALE? The airport auction offers everything from laptop computers to digital cameras, iPods, sporting goods, toys, jewelry — everything that a person may carry onto an airplane — including carry-on luggage. The bidding usually ends with the airport taking in about $40,000, said auctioneer Paul May. The take goes into the general revenue of the airport, according to spokesman Greg Chin.

   LAST RIDE: Bike Miami Days, which promotes exploring the city without leaving a carbon footprint, is culminating its first season with a finale. The event created by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz in November has held six bike days in downtown, Brickell and Coconut Grove. The last pedal is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 17 in downtown, showcasing area businesses and local non-profits and cultural organizations. Details: www.bike-miami.com.

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